Ecology Letters (2012) 15: 658–665
Fluctuations of fish populations abundances are shaped by the interplay between population dynamics and the stochastic forcing of the environment. Age-structured populations behave as a filter of the environment. This filter is characterised by the species-specific life cycle and life-history traits. An increased mortality of mature individuals alters these characteristics and may therefore induce changes in the variability of populations. The response of a generic age-structured model was analysed to investigate the expected changes in the fluctuations of fish populations in response to decreased adult survival. These expectations were then tested on an extensive dataset. In accordance with theory, the analyses revealed that decreased adult survival and mean age of spawners were linked to an increase in the relative importance of short-term fluctuations. It suggests that intensive exploitation can lead to a change in the variability of fish populations, an issue of central interest from both conservation and management perspectives.